empty refrigerators, pawn shops & a long hill up

when our refrigerator is empty, i go to the costco and buy what we need.  when my gas tank is empty, i drive down the street, swipe my card and fill up my gas tank.  sure, times are tight and we pinch pennies now almost as much as we did when we first were married.  but our reality is this:  because of education & circumstance & all kinds of things, we will most likely never live in poverty in the US.

today is blog action day, bloggers around the world blogging about the same topic.  today’s thoughtpoverty. when you think of poverty, what do you think of? my first thought used to only be africa, asia, people who live on the streets or in the projects of our major cities.  i mainly associated poverty with the poorest of the poor.  while that is so troubling & so true, i thought i’d share about what is most in my face in the moment:  domestic poverty in the suburbs.  single mommies & families living in average apartments and condos and houses in foreclosure.  friends on disability & medicaid & food stamps who scrape by month after month with empty refrigerators & trips to pawn shops to try to make ends meet. it’s called relative poverty, but the bottom line is:  they just aren’t making ends meet & no relief’s in sight.

statistic after statistic will confirm that millions and millions of people around the world are dying every day from the lack of food, water, shelter, and adequate health care.  these deaths are preventable.  there’s enough resource in the world to meet their needs, but the resources are not adequately distributed. this is why i am so thankful for the thousands of men & women who have dedicated their lives to fighting for better systems & structures & care for the poor around the world.  as christ-followers, we cannot escape the many scriptures that point us to caring for the poor.  i love that there seems to be a bit of a re-vival within “the church” right now to become more missional, to quit being so self-focused and start caring for others around the world and in our own backyard with resources & help. at the same time, we have a long, long way to go.  resources are wasted on the dumbest of things while our neighbors are grasping for a glimpse of relief.

in the world i live in–when it comes to poverty in the ‘burbs–it’s not necessarily a matter of life and death.  most of my friends won’t die from living below the poverty level.  i am thankful for that, but at the same time it doesn’t mean that i can just carry on and not be concerned with their situation & trust “the government” to take care of them.  the government won’t take care of them.  sure, they try, but there’s no doubt that the government leaves many a family with an empty refrigerator & dignity stripped by the end of the month.

so what’s the solution? oh, i think it’s so complicated & clearly there are no easy answers, but i think we need to be very careful that we don’t buy into the belief that “if (they) just worked hard enough they could get ahead.” this is what i believed for many years, thinking poverty was just a bootstrap issue.  and while i do believe it can be true–that hard work can shift circumstances– i don’t think it’s a universal truth.  there are forces that are sometimes never going to change:  health issues, mental issues, generational stuff, etc., that ensure that there’s probably not going to be any lasting relief.  i have also seen the crazy cycle of people working 3 jobs to make ends meet but never being able to get ahead because of mounting health care bills & defaulted student loans & all kinds of things that mean that getting out from under appears impossible.

at the same time, i do believe that for many, the brutal hill up toward self-sufficiency is possible, if there’s proper support, care, and long haul love, a beckoning toward something more.  but that won’t happen overnight. it will take the mobilization of people who are willing to invest in relationship with someone on the journey & then be able to stay in the long haul through the ups and the downs of life change.  to access the needed resources.  to pray and cheerlead and encourage and never, ever give up on what is possible.

what it boils down to, though, is relationship. i am idealistic enough to think that if somehow, some way, every person who lived below the poverty line had brothers & sisters in Christ to journey together with  for the long haul that over the course of time  life could be different.   hope would be more present.  the refrigerator wouldn’t be as empty.   i think it takes more finesse than we are prepared to do. it’s easy to dump clothes & food here and there, but long haul relationship among people with very different socioeconomics is tricky.  when i look at the biblical principles of community that is what i see.  a radical sharing of resource.  a crazy mix of diversity so that those who have share with those who need.  an incarnation of the life of Christ that is full of all kinds of weird sacrifices that are utterly contrary to the ways of the world.

oh i know it can all feel quite overwhelming and sometimes the overwhelmedness can make us feel guilty & paralyzed.   there are no easy answers or solutions, but sometimes when i’m stumped i default toward the path of least resistance & give up.  part of tackling poverty is to fight against our tendency to throw in the towel and actually pick up one instead, no matter how small & inconsequential it may feel.  to ask God to show us:  what are you asking me to consider, ponder, do about this issue in a very tangible way?

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

10 Comments

  • Thanks kathy as always, I agree.

    I know this wasn’t meant to be about the government – but your short mention of it made me think. I don’t think the government was ever designed to take care of the people. Nowhere in Romans where it talks about government (the only place I know of that described what it was to do) does it talk about helping the poor. That was always Christ’s ‘job’ and His followers. I do believe that it’s the churches job. Don’t we believe that God would love money & resources to flow through The Body rather than the government!? Wouldn’t He want us to reach out tangibly – for one thing it’s the perfect opportunity to be like Christ but also give people the intangible Good News as we show them how healing can take place in all areas – not just in the food and clothes provided to them. The government won’t ever spread The Message as they provide.

    yet The Body in general has put up a damn up in it’s blessings and is pooling the money rather than being a river gushing that keeps resources flowing…. so people are turning to the government… which is scary to me – because it’s a bunch of intellectuals trying to distribute money to programs run by beuracrats… and ultimately — helping people without giving them The Good News as well – doesn’t heal at all for the long term…. it just gives WAY too much power, control and trust to an immoral organization… which is what men & women have run from as fast and hard as they can from the beginning of creation…

    sorry for the tangent — I really just wanted to thank you for your heart for the poor…… but my heart went elsewhere.

    thanks for you 🙂

    Reply
  • I posted here on Blog Action day – http://mark-bymaswell.blogspot.com/

    I agree the answers are not easy easy but I am sure the first question on how to address poverty would have to be directed at me.

    I am sure also that as long as the Church remains in Church business and not Kingdom business it will never be able to participate fully in what Kingdom business is all about.

    So much we speak of Jesus as prophet, priest and king – how about servant? – that of serving others, now this is unique!!

    Reply
  • Kathy,
    Great post! Indeed, although providing funding, food, clothing, etc to other countries, I think far too often American’s forget about those in need here in the US and in their own neighborhoods. You touched on a lot of excellent points about those who aren’t living at a “poverty-level” per se according to government standards, but are certainly barely scraping by. You spoke of people on disability, unemployment, state healthcare, it’s more common that I believe the “average” Amercian knows.

    Papa began to put on my heart about a month ago to feed the homeless at a soup-kitchen on Thanksgiving and possibly more often afterwards. I’m actually in the process of finding one in downtown Phoenix to work at/volunteer at on T-Day. I just want to sit with them, listen to them, talk to them, just BE there with them. I can think of no better way to spend that day.

    Although it’s just a “small” thing, every ounce makes a difference. I think that’s the mentality more of us need to have. So often, I hear people say, “oh, well…just doing THAT really won’t make much of an impact.” The whole non-sense of needing to do something gradious is ludicrous. It’s the SMALL acts of love…all added up within the Body of Christ that makes all the difference in the world.

    After all, yes…Jesus did create/do some huge miracles for many people. But he also did the “smaller” (or what people would view them as) healings when Father placed each of those people in front of Him. Those lives…those people….”count” just as much.

    Anyways, great post, Kathy. Truly…good stuff.

    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂
    http://amyiswalkinginthespirit.blogspot.com

    Reply
  • Yes Randi, the good news of Christ came in the forms of healing, food, clothing, and more than anything, love. Clearly the church is capable of bringing love, and importantly love in these forms to people, and it is unfortunate that $ have piled up behind the dams of church institutions.
    The roman empire was put to shame by Christians who cared for one another so well. They created change within the empire because of the social pressure of Christians caring for not only the needs of other Christians, but of the pagans as well, as Jesus taught us to care for one another.
    The preamble to the U.S. constitution includes “to provide for the general welfare” as part of the reason for existence of the federal government of the United States. make of that what you will. I agree that showing love to one another is not (nor should be) in the constitution.
    p.s., i am an intellectual, but do not distribute money to bureaucrats. speaking of distribution, i did go to the food bank today- not because I like to (it is a shaming experience, actually) but on behalf of my children.

    “I am sure also that as long as the Church remains in Church business and not Kingdom business it will never be able to participate fully in what Kingdom business is all about.
    I agree, Mark.

    Reply
  • Interesting Kathy!

    There are small ways to make a big difference as well.

    Never buy a new article of clothing unless you are prepared to take an existing article and give that away. That way you never land up with a cupboard full of clothes you don’t wear.

    When you buy food stuff’s get a few duplicates that you can give away.

    When you buy a book, magazine, cd, dvd etc. either buy two and give one away or buy one but then donate an equal proportion into a Bible Society/Wycliffe Bible translators fund, if not into a feeding scheme.

    Simple little things that seem of no consequence, but added together they can change peoples lives!

    Reply
  • Kathy, there is no easy answer. We as the church need to step up. Not just corporately but individually. We have been doing that for years overseas in other nations. Not to the extent that we could however. Today, like you I am mindful of domestic poverty. Beyond the stereotypes of welfare moms and people that will not work. I AM part of the working poor. 2 jobs and a full load of dependants. This is such a hot spot. I have worked the same job FT for over 5 years and made good $$ but with the current economic crisis going on especially in the construction industry (where I work for a concrete company) my wages have been cut and my hours too. This makes the slim pickins even slimmer. I wonder WHERE that money is coming from for the electric bill or the next tank of gas to GET to work. You are right about the long haul. Generational stuff….I worked as a family educator with the State of VA and the generational stuff is a long haul walk beside someone. It can take years to break patterns and curses instilled by bad models, negative self image, and little education. But we have to do it. We must. I am also a product of the welfare moms syndrome. But I was able to walk and work thru that. It has been a God walk to where I am. BUT the fear is still there that what if the job market fails more…then what. As a member of the working class poor…I wonder what or who will fall into step beside me if things get worse and my refrigerator is empty. And how will I be able to encourage those that I am currently trying to encourage thru their own messy life?? Will I be able to hand them what little I have because they have less? Tough topic. One that strokes up every side of me. I’m so glad you are in the trenches helping those single mommies and families that have nobody to advocate. HUGS!

    Reply
  • thanks sage for the direct quote from our constitution.

    you’re right there is a lot of room to maneauver & interpret what it means to ‘provide for the general welfare’

    looking at the lives and actions of our founding fathers is sometimes a great way to interpret how they meant it….

    great topic. thanks for bringing attention as always kathy to needed areas….

    🙂

    Reply
  • My father is a director of a homeless shelter and he makes the point that the very poor.. the homeless.. are actually taken care of. They have a place to sleep, there are avenues for food, etc. Granted, it may not be our standards, but it is available. HOWEVER, what is missed is the working poor. The people in his office are often stuck in tough situations. They can’t afford to live close to work, higher gas means lower wages. Healthcare is a big issue.. or cost of auto insurance, etc. Often the stories are circles of issues… As you mentioned.. we often go to the poorest of the poor, but often forget the rung before it… the working poor.

    Personally, I view the Great Depression as an era where the church failed. Before, it was charity through the church that served the people, but the depression had government fill the gap. As we enter another economic downturn.. I pray it will be the church and not the state that fills the gap.

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  • I’ve stopped the practice of “censored giving”. Before, I wouldn’t give change to a homeless person because I assumed he would use it to buy booze or drugs. Today, I just give without precondition. No witnessing. No handing out of Bible tracks. I just take some change and hand it over.

    Maybe I’m contributing to the decay of my community by enabling poor people. I don’t really care. I have money. They don’t.

    Sure, we can teach them how to fish but it’s also nice to give away a fish once and a while – especially when we’ve been blessed with many many fish compared to most places in the world.

    Reply
  • oops, i thought i responded to these comments & just realized i hadn’t. it’s been nutty here with off the map & wonderful company visiting here for the event.

    randi – yes, i agree, it was never meant to be the government’s responsibility. it is our responsibility, especially as christ followers, to share resources & meet needs.

    mark – i loved your post. it hit it on the head…my favorite line in this comment was the same as sage’s: “I am sure also that as long as the Church remains in Church business and not Kingdom business it will never be able to participate fully in what Kingdom business is all about.”

    amy – i really like what you are saying, that it doesn’t have to be big. the smallest things matter. the ordinary acts of generosity matter. the little ways Christ’s love is passed on matters. i believe the world can be changed one small act of kindness & love at a time.

    pops – i think what you are saying is so similar to amy’s. yep, it’s always the little things. the big initiatives, well, i am glad for them and they are helpful, but i still believe the ripple effect of small actions is where real change happens…

    tara – yes, you know what it is like. you have experienced it, lived it, are in the midst of it. thanks for your honesty. you are a person of hope, it is so evident. love & strength & courage to you my friend.

    chuck – nice to hear from you. yes, the working poor often get overlooked & there are all kinds of assumptions made on their behalf. i don’t think we can dismiss any level of poverty and say that one is the one that should be focused on because it’s more important than another, but i do think the question God keeps asking us is: who, how, what?
    thanks for sharing.

    susan – yes, i agree, lots of the holes have been created by worldly economics & what i call predators to the working poor–check cashing operations, pawn shops, credit scams, auto loans, etc.–that increase the chains of financial bondage.

    darrin – oh i love your thoughts. i like what ken loyd has been labeled as being–a ministry cowboy–yeah, i don’t do background checks and make people fill out long involved forms to get $100. sure, there’s discernment involved, but i think it typically is just because we are tight and afraid and i am with you, we have to have freedom to just do what we feel God is asking us to do…thanks for sharing.

    Reply

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